Sustainability and Persuasion: Guest Blog

Recently I was afforded the opportunity to write about Andy Tillman for someone else. I love having pitches accepted–it’s been awhile since I worked like a freelancer.
All that is here is true, however, so please enjoy the gentle persuasion and if you want to know more about worms or cycling or any of it… let me know!

Shine: It Takes Just One Andy to Change Your Mind

Dr. Julie Ferris emailed me not long ago because a friend of a friend of a friend (you know how it goes sometimes) forwarded her a recent SHINE post. She told me her beau Andy Tillman would make a great subject for a post. On paper, Andy might not be the first person who comes to mind when thinking about sustainability advocates. But spend a little time with him, Julie says, and suddenly you’ll just find yourself with a worm bin in your yard or tailgating to your next baseball game on a bicycle. This is why Andy is perfect for SHINE…one man quietly following his passion gets people in the community to think differently. It might take thousands of people to fuel a movement, but change can start with just one. Pass it on!

“Did you ride your bike to work today?”

I have to be honest and say no. There’s no room to make excuses with Andy. All you get in return is a disapproving, “Mmhmm.”
He’s persuasive that way.
A former Marine from the very Republican “Up North” country in Wisconsin, a hunter, fisher and gun owner, he seems an unlikely candidate for sustainability. However, a master’s degree in urban planning and a necessary thriftiness (he’s among the overeducated, underemployed) mean that he’s farming in his home (a tiny efficiency apartment), working a plot in the community garden and shopping at farmer’s markets.

Andy Tillman is inspiring without being a bully. He wants people to change their habits, but he’ll never preach. He just does it. If you’re out with him, you have to follow along, and suddenly his habits become yours. I dare you to try and throw away food waste near him. He’ll shout from wherever he is in the house, “Hey! What are you doing?” and then grabs the bucket from the fridge, opens it and waves it before you, waiting for you to make your deposit so it can become worm food.

He is slowly, persuasively converting his friends—one sustainable maneuver at a time—because he recognizes change comes little by little, and it requires commitment, not pressure. Evidence of this is the number of his friends who now have vermiculture bins in their homes (me included).

A sample of the red wigglers being sifted to get to the “black gold” they leave behind after eating food waste. Vermiculture is an easy project to begin–a few Rubbermaid containers, some dirt, some leftover veggies and a few worms and you create a sustainable ecosystem.

Andy, his bike (which he parks in his office cubicle) and his worms are pretty famous among a very large group of friends and co-workers. He has co-workers saving coffee containers for him to put the “black gold” worm waste in for plantings and fertilizer. Here are other ways Andy has roped people in recently:

■He organizes an annual Pub Pedal, coordinating with local bars (only if they have patios) and getting bikers to assemble to safely travel a pre-determined route on city streets from one location to another—patronizing different local businesses and drawing a pedaling crowd of about 30 people annually. All bicycles are welcome and many people dust off old wheels or grab a new cycle at a garage sale or thrift store simply to have the chance to participate.

This is the 2011 Pub Pedal group, stopping at the newly re-opened Pabst Brewery complex. Part of Andy’s route showcased the gems of our city to support new, innovative community planning and businesses like the reinvention of the Pabst.

■ We tailgate Milwaukee Brewers baseball games with Andy–he latches his bike trailer filled with a cooler of beer and some brats, and we pedal past the long line of cars waiting to pay $8 to park further away from the stadium than we can park our bikes. Everyone is welcome to join him, but he’s cycling, so you’d better be, too.

Here is Andy (far left), starting the small grill that he hauled to Miller Park to watch the Milwaukee Brewers. Andy uses the trailer (on scratch and dent sale) for tailgating or hauling his gardening needs to his community garden plot.

■He gifts family and friends jars of worm waste for their gardens while also providing them the fruits of his garden labors—jars of pickles and canned beans he grew and preserved himself. He wraps his gifts in drafts of maps he created at work as a way to recycle the wasted paper.

Andy’s small garden plot is part of a Community Gardens project in urban Milwaukee. A small space still yields plenty of produce for him to eat and gift to family and friends, proof of how small actions can yield big results.

■He builds it himself—all cooking is from scratch, camping products and goods are things he’s crafted and assembled versus buying a pre-made version complete with excess packaging and more. (He’s a genius with duct tape.)

Andy, a part-time urban planner and mapping expert for the City of Milwaukee’s Department of Urban Development, is also contemporary and tech savvy, so he uses social media to start and engage these conversations. Follow him on Twitter @Aplans and see how he spreads simple messages and great reads from across the internet. Most recently, you’ll read about his success in participating in the Riverwest 24—a 24-hour neighborhood bike race in Milwaukee celebrating its fourth year of bringing an eclectic and troubled community together through hilarity, pedaling and volunteerism.

Andy (right) and other City of Milwaukee teammates (including legislative Alderman, Nik Kovac) as the day-long adventure begins.

For Andy, sustainability is as much about the people and the community working together as it is about the recycling or reusing. His constant, steady action have a magnetic power that drags friends and family along without even realizing they’ve made the changes. People all recognize this in Andy, which is his point. He’s efficient and practical, but more importantly, he makes it look easy because it is. I know it’s working, because everyone turns to Andy with questions on gardening, cooking, preserving, bicycling and camping resources. Sustainability is easy, it’s small and it’s natural. Andy makes that point every day.

Dr. Julie Ferris, a former faculty member, is the Public Relations Supervisor for the Common Council-City Clerk in Milwaukee. She has served as the first writer-in-residence at the historic Pfister Hotel and is a Certified Tourism Ambassador for the City of Milwaukee. After work, however, she’s pedaling more, trying to develop a green thumb, working with the Social Development Foundation (@sdfmke) and leading the Milwaukee branch of the American Association for University Women ( Follow her exploits @cheesebabe on Twitter or connect at

Here’s the direct link to Jackie Cangro’s New York Blog

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maryt1 View All →

Feminist, activist, outdoor advocate, animal lover, chocolate shake lover, reader, watcher, talker, actor, speaker, worker, writer, urban adventurer, hustler, involved, passionate, excited, ready.

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